Why Arthur Morgan Is The Best Video Game Protagonist Of The Generation

Rockstar wrote a great character, but it's the players who turned him into an icon.

Arthur Morgan
Rockstar

The PS4 and Xbox One era will be remembered as the time where video game protagonists finally grew up. From established icons like Nathan Drake and B.J. Blazkowicz, to brand new characters like Celeste's Madeline or Horizon's Aloy, gaming heroes are still larger-than-life badasses, but now between beheadings they wrangle with real human emotions as well. Sure, this started at the tail-end of the last-gen with games like The Last of Us and Spec Ops: The Line, whose complex characters made the meathead space marines of yore look cartoonish in comparison, but this practice was really popularised from 2013 onwards.

What makes that trend even more fascinating though, is how the changes in the industry during this period seemed to indicate a move away form authored protagonists. The current generation - broadly speaking - has been defined by "player choice". From the push towards open-world sandboxes to the increase in live services and shared-world shooters, the focus has been more on the people playing the games, rather than the people they're controlling. Yeah, they might not all be mute protagonists or blank avatars, but in one form or another, they're intentionally made to be an extension of the player first and foremost. Obviously, there have been exceptions, and Sony in particular have doubled down on exploring their characters without this element of freedom, but there has been a notable push towards open ended, player-driven sandboxes from the major publishers.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, and releases on both sides have birthed great characters. Avatars for player expression like Morgan Yu have been just as compelling as headliners like Kratos, but out of all the memorable heroes and anti-heroes to grace consoles over the past five years, it's Red Dead Redemption 2's Arthur Morgan who's been the most important, particularly because of how he synergises both of the industry's currently in-vogue approaches to constructing main characters.

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Writer. Mumbler. Only person on the internet who liked Spider-Man 3